There’s a lot of silly chirping going on in Philadelphia these days.
The Sixers should trade Ben Simmons for Andrew Wiggins and a box of rocks.
The Phillies should sign two more Didi Gregoriouses instead of Kris Bryant.
And, now, this:
Miles Sanders shouldn’t start because Boston Scott and Jordan Howard are killing it.
Talk about recency bias.
You don’t bench a home run hitter because his backups hit a few doubles off lousy pitching.
Since Sanders was drafted in 2019 he has made 24 plays of 20 yards or more, more than twice as many as his replacements; Scott has eight, and Howard has three. Sanders has 12 plays of 30 yards or more; Scott has two, Howard, none. Sanders has seven plays of 40 yards or more and five plays of 50 yards or more. Scott has one.
Rest assured, Sanders would have bagged a few more bangers if he’d been healthy this past month.
Three games ago, with Sanders recovering from an ankle injury on the injured reserve list, the Eagles finally acknowledged Jalen Hurts’ limitations at quarterback and committed to the running game behind their powerful offensive line.
In those games, Scott and Howard averaged 5.3 yards per rush and scored five touchdowns. The Birds logged 208.7 rushing yards per game, but Hurts accounted for 62.7 yards, and it’s not like the Birds dogged the Steel Curtain. They ran over the winless Lions, against the Chargers’ last-place run defense, and against Denver, a flat club coming off a blowout win over Dallas.
Scott and Howard ran well, yes, but the offensive line has been even better. If the sorts of holes the line opened for Scott and Howard had opened for Sanders, he might still be running.
If you think that Sanders would not have exploded these last three weeks behind full-bore right tackle Lane Johnson, draft steal left guard Landon Dickerson, the best version of Jason Kelce we’ve seen in years, and tight end Dallas Goedert, unleashed, you probably don’t know what you’re looking at.
I mean, even coach Nick Sirianni realizes this.
“If Miles is healthy and ready to go, he’s our starter,” Sirianni said Wednesday.
You got the impression that Sirianni wanted to say, “Of course, if Miles is healthy and ready to go, he’s our starter. ... What, are you crazy?”
Sirianni was both decent and diplomatic enough not to respond with incredulity, but you couldn’t have blamed him.
It was, after all, the fifth question intimating that Sanders had lost his job.
The rest of the story
Scott and Howard have done a very good job of running hard and running smart and taking care of the football. But the difference in the running game’s effectiveness lies more in Siranni’s willingness to use the running game — he called passing plays more than 70% of the time in the first seven games.
Moreover, the Eagles used five different combinations of starters on the offensive line in their first seven games, and have had the same group of starters together for the last four.
Entering the season, considering Goedert’s marginalization because of the presence of Zach Ertz, Sanders was, without question, the most potent offense of weapon on the team — a low bar, granted, but it’s not low because Sanders stinks. Sanders’ 2,809 yards from scrimmage in his first 35 regular-season NFL games are the second-most by an Eagle since 1950, just 254 yards behind LeSean McCoy.
Like McCoy, Sanders is as good a decoy as he is a runner. Teams routinely spy his movements, the way they often spy Hurts. This extra attention can open up the middle for Goedert and the Eagles’ receivers.
Nobody’s spying Howard.
Sanders is not without fault. He’s a poor blocker in pass protection. He occasionally hesitates at the hole, hoping to see a bigger crease open up instead of trying to blast through, like the 224-pound Howard loves doing. He sometimes reverses his field, hoping the back side will afford him escape, instead of crashing into the line of scrimmage for a minimal, but positive, gain. He does not maximize every play.
So what? Home run hitters strike out.
You know who else used to strike out? Another Sanders. Barry Sanders.
Certainly, Miles Sanders isn’t the caliber of player as his surnamesake.
But there’s no rational universe in which you wouldn’t start Barry Sanders Lite over Frank Gore Lite.